Rep. Bernstine says his bill is trying to help law abiding citizens, but CeaseFirePA says it will lead to an increase in crime and violent crime.By Meghan Schiller

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Beaver County Republican lawmaker wants to put an end to concealed carry permits with a new hot-button bill. KDKA’s Meghan Schiller explains why this lawmaker believes the pandemic proved they’re no longer needed.

He’s gun-toting, permit-less, and cites the Constitution.

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“Article 1, Section 21 talks about the right to bear arms shall not be questioned, so we’re really making sure we’re putting the constitutional rights of people forward,” said Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Beaver County).

It’s a renewed push for constitutional carry. Rep. Bernstine’s House Bill 659 seeks to no longer require law-abiding citizens to obtain a government-issued license to carry a concealed firearm in Pennsylvania.

“Right now, I don’t have a suit jacket on, and if I was carrying, that would be legal if I didn’t have a license,” said Rep. Bernstine. “But as soon as I put my suit jacket on, that covers up that gun, and that becomes illegal.”

You can already open carry in Pennsylvania without a permit, but permission to conceal a weapon faces more scrutiny. Something CeaseFirePA believes keeps Pennsylvanians safe.

“It allows law enforcement to do a deeper dive on individuals, to check if they have a history of domestic violence, to check if there’s a history of substance abuse, to see if they have violent misdemeanors,” said Josh Fleitman, the Western Pennsylvania manager of CeaseFirePA.

Rep. Bernstine tells KDKA his legislation wants to help the good people.

“We know law-abiding citizens are going to abide by the law and these criminals that commit gun crimes, who by the way should be prosecuted to the fullest extent, these are people who are not going to obey the law anyway,” he said.

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He points to the pandemic and long lines outside county sheriff’s offices to support his case.

“What that proved to us was these are just totally not needed and the only thing these licenses are doing currently is bogging down the system in our local sheriff’s departments when they could be doing much more important work,” said Rep. Bernstine.

Fleitman called that line of thinking “dangerous.”

“So, you know in 2019, 248,000 Pennsylvanians got a permit through this process, which is a very large number, so the current process in no way inhibits peoples’ Second Amendment rights, and so, in that sense, this legislation is a solution in search of a problem,” said Fleitman.

Yet for the first time, the legislation passed through committee and will arrive on the Pennsylvania House floor. If passed, Rep. Bernstine believes Pennsylvania will soon join 21 other states that allow constitutional carry.

Fleitman points to Arizona for why CeaseFirePA will fight to stop that.

“They saw a 44% increase in aggravated assaults using the firearm in the six years after they removed the permit requirement for concealed carry and so we know this is going to lead to an increase in crime and violent crime which is why police are actually opposed to it,” said Fleitman.

“A lot of the people who are opposed to this have really been on these thinking and feeling type things,” said Rep. Bernstine. “The truth is the data tells us you are no more at risk for gun violence when people conceal carry, and in fact, there’s actually a less risk of it.”

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Rep. Bernstine said the bill is two-tiered, so people will still need to get a concealed carry permit if they want to carry outside of Pennsylvania in other states with different gun laws.

Meghan Schiller